This year, the Aqua Foundation for Women has awarded $53,000 to fifteen wonderful applicants for our AFW Family of Scholarships Program. Thanks to them and to the careful selection process of our Scholarship Committee, we are proud to present our 2012-2013 AFW Scholars!

Mageda Abdulhadi

Mageda Abdulhadi is a hard working intellectual who strives to be the best at what she does and what she studies. Her accomplishments as a young homosexual advocate have surpassed the expectations of her peers and mentors. In just her first semester at Florida International University, she was voted in to become Stonewall’s new president (FIU’s gay-straight alliance). Her commitment to the club helped resurrect it from its dormant state and allowed individuals from both inside and outside the FIU community to find a safe place to interact and discuss issues with caring and understanding people. In the fall of 2011, Mageda also hosted the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show – Shadow Cast’ performance at her university. Almost 100 people showed up, making it the best and most successful event Stonewall has seen in years! Although Mageda’s involvement in school activities are extensive, she still finds the time to excel at her studies, making her the ‘go-to’ person in her class when a peer seeks help on assignments. In the fall of 2011, Mageda was admitted into the Honors College at Florida International University due to her excellence in academics. She has also been on the Dean’s honors list two years in a row.

Mageda also applied and was accepted to the prestigious and well-known University of Florida in the spring of 2012. Mageda has discovered a love for political dilemma and is convinced that the best way to help the community she belongs to is by changing the governmental perspective on sexual orientation. Mageda, better known as “Magi,” is a stubborn young women with a fiery heart whose persistence and courage demonstrated to her fellow peers has gained her their respect and love. Those she has shown support for have given their appreciation because of how she changed their lives. Mageda looks forward to her continued work in, and support of, the GLBTQ community.

Charrise Alexander

Charrise Alexander is first generation American and is the first in her family to achieve a college degree. As the eldest of two children, she has worked hard to set an example for her brother and open a new path for all those who will come after her in her family.

After graduating from high school, Charrise attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County. There she was one of the founding members of Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), a feminist organization, and VOICES, a Black Literary Magazine. Upon graduation, Charrise took a full-time position in commercial real estate with a multinational real estate investment trust (REIT). She worked her way up from an office clerk to the Assistant Director of Marketing and Ancillary Income. Charrise left this position after four years to follow her lifelong dream of becoming an attorney.

Now in Miami, Charrise is focused on becoming a lawyer and working in commercial litigation. She is also eager to continue breaking barriers, as commercial litigation is a male dominated field. She feels there is a disconnect between commercial litigators and the communities they represent. As a Black gay woman, who does not come from an entitled place, Charrise feels her perspective is very much needed in the commercial law field.

Catherine Armuelles

Catherine Armuelles is a fighter, overcoming adverse circumstances from a young age. Her early memories are of an abusive home life, which caused her to struggle with low self-esteem. She turned to acting in plays at her Magnet Arts high school because then she could be another person. Over time her passion for the Arts changed from a desire to escape her life into an invested discipline.

After high school Catherine entered a ministry program. Although her attraction to women meant she could not serve as a pastor, she still remained active there and prayed desperately for God to “take this burden away.” When that did not work she knew she needed to be honest with herself, so she came out. When her church community alienated her, Catherine moved on with her life.

Catherine decided to go back to college at 27 and has become a critically-thinking honors student completely invested in gender and sexuality studies. Some people might look at her past life experiences as a waste of time, or as an excuse not to succeed; however, Catherine has gained much insight, strength and perseverance from them. All the skills that she’s accumulated over her lifespan are transferable and she feels she has many lives to touch and people to serve. She’s managed to grow from a young girl with very limited resources and emotional wounds into a determined woman with high goals and a strong work ethic. She will continue to find avenues in academia to express herself and change this world for the better. She will pave the way for other young women who are told they won’t make it, but do!

Susan Caraballo – Alison Burgos Scholarship Recipient

An independent arts consultant, producer, and curator, Susan Caraballo has worked with over 100 arts organizations and individual artists since 1996. Susan began her career working as staff for some of South Florida’s most important cultural organizations including the Intercultural Dance and Music Institute (INDAMI) at FIU, Miami-Dade College’s Cultural Affairs Department, and the Florida Dance Association.

In 1999, she founded Artemis, a service and presenting non-profit arts organization, whose mission was to support, develop, and tour South Florida based artists. Under the auspices of Artemis, Susan directed PS 742, an alternative performance space in the historic Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, which was recognized as “Best Black Box” by the Miami New Times. Susan resigned as Executive Director of Artemis in 2006 to accept the position of Arts Administrator for the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, where she led administrative and operational aspects of the foundation.

Susan is currently pursuing a Masters in Arts Management at American University while continuing to consult with a small number of organizations in DC and South Florida. During her professional “hiatus” in academia, she worked with the NEA’s International Arts Journalism Institute in the Visual Arts, hosted by American University. In addition, she resumed her interest in Cuban culture by serving as a Director-in-Residence for AU Abroad’s Havana Enclave program while researching contemporary Cuban art in Havana for part of 2010. Back in Miami while completing her Masters, Susan has been most recently working as a consultant for Vizcaya Museum and Gardens’ Contemporary Arts Project, Bas Fisher Invitational and FUNDarte.

Kimberly Carias

Kimberly Carias is a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop senior high school, soon to be attending FIU. She lives with her mother and younger sister, taking on responsibility both as an older sister and financially. She speaks three languages (English, Spanish, and American Sign Language) fluently. She describes herself as spiritual, reserved, mature, opinionated, and well-rounded. She is academically successful, having taken many rigorous AP and honors courses throughout high school. She has won various honor roll recognitions and tutors other students after school. Speech has always been very significant to her, so Kimberly spends her weekends at debate tournaments, speaking on social issues she feels passionate about.

Within her first year of debating, Kimberly became a member of the National Forensic League (a national non-profit educational honor society for speech and debate students). Additionally, she has also been a dedicated member of her school’s active gay-straight alliance. She participates in Living Rainbow – an extension to GSA that brings LGBT suicides and bullying problems out into the light through Socio Drama – by performing at workshops. Weekends, she speaks for Safe Schools South Florida as a youth speaker to teachers and administrators to promote equality in schools and she is a heritage panelist within her own school. She plans to continue to be an LGBTQ activist in her community through her natural passion for speech and her willingness to commit to the beliefs dearest to her.

Yaniré Chow – A Wells Fargo Scholarship Recipient

Yaniré Chow of Managua, Nicaragua is the only daughter of a single mother who worked night and day trying to give her child the best life she possibly could. In grade school, Yaniré got picked on by other kids because of the special shoes and belts around her legs that she wore to help her walk. At the age of five, along with her mother, they were kicked out of their home and had to sleep in her godmother’s living room. Fortunately, her mother won the Visa Lottery and they were able to travel to the United States of America as permanent residents.

As a child, Yaniré knew that she was different. In fact, she felt that she was doing something wrong when she would have crushes on girls instead of boys and she was afraid someone would find out. This fear made it difficult to have many friends, but her mother was always there as a support. In time, with her mother’s help, Yaniré came to accept her sexual orientation and has since gone on to support various causes that help the LGBT community, including volunteering with Miami Gay Pride, Aqua Girl®, and SAVE Dade.

During high school, she was eligible to attend a full-time dual enrollment high school program, but she suffered more health problems and had to drop out of high school after recuperating to help her mom make ends meet. She was able to graduate in her appropriate year through night school while working, and continued with higher education courses. Now she is a junior at Florida International University, while holding a full-time job. Even though she wishes she could attend school full-time, she knows that when you work hard, it pays off in the end and the achievements are more meaningful. Every day she is thankful to her mother for being so understanding with her sexual orientation and always being supportive.

Sabrina Diz

Sabrina Diz came out as bisexual at fourteen years of age and quickly became involved in the LGBT community during high school and was a volunteer for Miami’s first LGBT Prom held at Florida International University. This was her first step toward a life of social justice.

After completing her AA, Sabrina moved to Maryland to be closer to family and threw herself into organizations dedicated to creating change and bringing awareness to LGBT issues. She was also introduced to the Metropolitan Community Church and was deeply affected and moved by their message, as they are the first LGBT affirming denomination. Sabrina became involved in MCC’s ministry work with the Young Adults, interpreting the message for Spanish-speaking audiences, and she was also involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and Trans* alliance. This work brought about life-changing experiences where she learned that her passions were rooted in social justice work, especially in spaces where faith and sexuality intersected.

Once she completed her BS in Psychology she hoped to go back to school; instead she was selected as one of twenty-six applicants to hit the road on the 2009 SoulForce Equality Ride. The two month bus tour took her and 25 fellow activists around the country to 16 faith-based colleges and universities that hold discriminatory policies against LGBT students, staff, and faculty in an attempt to open dialogue and create change. In 2010 she applied to FIU where she is now working towards her Master’s in Religious Studies with a focus on Queer Theory and continues to volunteer her time in the community.

Kim Ehly – A Wells Fargo Scholarship Recipient

Kim Ehly’s mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire the awakening of the human spirit with her voice and actions. She has been an openly gay woman for many years now and believes that one of the best assets she can pass on to another woman is the strength to be her authentic self. Kim demonstrates this authenticity well; after many successful years in the world of acting in theatre, film, and television, she decided to pursue her Masters in Social Work. This degree will enable her to have a more active impact on the lesbian community through a private practice, as well as allowing her to take measures which will help gays/lesbians with gay marriage and adoption rights. Kim is also thrilled to be a member of the first LGBTQA task force on Florida Atlantic University’s campus. And, staying true to her first love, is also writing a stage play adaptation which strives to portray positive images of LGBT people. Kim’s goal is to elevate the lesbian community in a significant way and change the views of others, and the world around her, a little (hopefully a lot) at a time.

Vanessa Hernandez

Vanessa Hernandez is a bright, ambitious nursing student at Nova Southeastern University who is very enthusiastic about her chosen profession of nursing. She has many goals set out for herself to accomplish in life, including a stint as a “travel nurse,” where she will go from city to city every three months or so working in different hospitals, and she especially hopes to concentrate on low-income and needy areas. She also dreams of obtaining her MSW so that she can work more closely with populations in need, and she also plans on giving back to the LGBT community through youth counseling as well as through deeper involvement with Aqua Foundation for Women.

Vanessa has been greatly influenced by caring for her sister, who has cerebral palsy. And she also finds inspiration from her grandmother who has always been her “number one fan.” This support has been vital to Vanessa because, since she was 18, Vanessa has been supporting herself, working full-time throughout college, all while grappling with her identity as a bisexual woman. Vanessa didn’t think of herself as bisexual until her early twenties when she fell head over heels for a female co-worker, who, happily, returned her feelings. However, her parents were not so understanding and it has taken time for them to come to terms with and accept their daughter as she is. This struggle for acceptance has made obtaining Aqua’s scholarship even more meaningful because it has validated her academic achievements, her future goals, and her sexual orientation. Now that she is a Aqua Foundation Scholar she looks forward to participating more fully in the LBT community through a variety of avenues.

Julia Larson

Julia Larson first recognized the value, importance, and commitment she felt to public education while studying and student-teaching in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. In 2005, she obtained a bachelor’s degree with honors in Elementary Education and a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. Shortly after graduation, Julia began pursuing her lifelong dream of living and teaching in another country by obtaining a position teaching English in Seoul, South Korea where she taught for two years before accepting a new position in Miami. She welcomed the challenge of relocating to a new city and becoming a part of a predominately Spanish-speaking school and community.

She quickly adapted to her new-found community and became involved in school activities, writing and performing a song, creating an art project, and choreographing the Winter Celebration performance for her class. Because of her musical and artistic talent she was chosen to participate in the GETsmART Arts for Learning program in Miami-Dade County which provides teachers with training and resources on integrating art into the curriculum. Ultimately she was chosen to present her projects and experiences to all Miami-Dade participating teachers at the 2010 GETsmART final assembly.

Julia has also dedicated much of her time to community service, including with SAVE Dade, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, and the Camillus House. Currently, Julia is attending graduate school at Florida International University in pursuit of a Counseling Education degree and hopes to work with LGBT youth, but is committed to the education and advocacy of all children because youth are vital in promoting change.

Melissa Miller Muñoz – A Wells Fargo Scholarship Recipient

Melissa Miller Muñoz is a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution concentrating specifically on LGBTQ sociopolitical conflict. Her current research is on the topic of lesbian motherhood and same-sex parenting, a topic of relevance for Melissa and her partner. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies and a Master of Arts in cross-disciplinary studies, with a concentration in gender. Melissa possesses a strong passion for equal rights advocacy and the prominent issues affecting the LGBTQ community. She is an active volunteer for local and national organizations that support equality and aim to ignite social change. Melissa often participates as a panel member in LGBTQ panel discussions at both Florida International University and St. Thomas University to share her experiences and to educate future mental health counselors about her life as a lesbian.

She has been with her partner since high school, an achievement she takes particular pride in. Melissa and her partner were among the first group of students to start the gay-straight alliance at her high school. Possessing an optimistic nature and a willingness to help others, she has volunteered her time and effort to good causes for several years. Melissa intends to continue to push boundaries and put forth her best effort to advocate for LGBT rights and the issues that are most important to the LGBT community.

Bridget Pelaez

Bridget Pelaez was born on October 23, 1984 in Miami, Florida and her parents always knew she had something different about her; at age nine she was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorder, and was switched from a private to public school, where her “boyish” look was often ridiculed which didn’t do much to combat those issues. She feared school in general at that point, but pulled through anyway and went from not being able to attend a single day of school to being the only female wrestler in Florida. Bridget was definitely coming into her own, and coming out!

By middle school she was Student Government President, and in high school her honesty and willingness to be herself, as a lesbian, was applauded. Classmates showed their support by electing her Class President and Homecoming Queen all four years of high school. In addition to these achievements Bridget received a dual athletic and academic scholarship to St.Thomas University where she would play soccer and softball while pursuing a Sports-Psychology degree.

However, this was not to be and after her freshman year in college she cut her contract, realizing that her heart belonged elsewhere, so she became an EMT-Paramedic. Bridget also attended fire academy, excelling greatly, but met resistance because she was gay. Humbled and bruised she began working for Baptist Pediatric ER where she rediscovered her love of children, and chose to pursue a career in nursing. Within the Pediatric ER she has improved the trauma room, helped create and co-edit a Disaster Newsletter for her department, and become a Hazmat Instructor for the Baptist Health System.

Lately, She’s been to Haiti to assist with ongoing recovery efforts and works with local activists in regards to health reform and overall equality that affect the LBT community. Bridget has already overcome workforce discrimination, stood up for departmental changes, and taken a stand for LGBTQ rights. She lives with a “conquer evil with a thing called love” mentality, and vows she always will.

Katy Peterson

An accomplished performer, instructor, facilitator, conductor, and composer, Katy Peterson has performed and taught extensively in over 40 countries and more than half of the United States. Katy is gifted at helping each student find his or her authentic voice in a chosen instrument. Creating a safe environment to play, discover, and experiment in voice, piano, and guitar, lessons are infused with energy and a holistic approach to music where technique, intention, and energy all weave together so that Katy’s students can learn to create magical art.

Community involvement is intrinsic to what Katy creates artistically. From an early age she volunteered with local non-profits wherever she lived and over the years has donated countless hours of free lessons, benefit performances, producer skills, compositions for special events, construction skills, office volunteer hours, and more. Now at the Sunshine Cathedral MCC, Katy is diligently working to raise awareness in the LGBT community and beyond that there is a vibrant place in South Florida where all are welcome to celebrate their spiritual path. She conducts, performs, and brings performers to community events such as Christmas on Las Olas, Pride, Stonewall, community art festivals, and more.

An actively engaged professional, Katy is a member of the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), as well as many others. In 2011 she was awarded the highly competitive NATS Intern scholarship. She holds undergraduate degrees in music and theater from the Wesley Institute; Sydney, Australia, and she is currently working on her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts with a Music concentration at Goddard College; Port Townsend, WA.

Maria Valero

Maria Valero was born and raised in Panama but chose to leave a comfortable and prearranged life to move to Miami in 2005 to pursue her MBA. She is particularly proud of obtaining her MBA as she had to work two, sometimes three, jobs while pursuing it. Her hard work paid off and she went to work in the accounting and finance industry for seven years, then Charo (as she is more warmly known) decided to change her life’s direction and follow her true passions. This led her to pursue a second master’s in Religious Studies and a certificate in Queer Studies at FIU along with a certification as a Life Coach.

It is Charo’s positive attitude and strong spirit that continues to drive and motivate her and influence others in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Her dream is to pursue her Ph.D. in Religious Studies and educate, mobilize, and continue to be very active and involved in the LGBTQ community.

Her most recent work has been within the LBT community in Miami where she has volunteered and currently serves on the steering committee for Aqua Girl®. She is also involved in FIU groups that encourage tolerance and celebrate diversity. In every aspect of her life, Charo tries to raise awareness, facilitate dialogue and advocate for social justice for the LGBTQ community at large. She looks forward to getting even more involved, particularly, with LGBTQ youth.

Jessica Wilson

Jessica Wilson always knew she was different, but her internalized homophobia made coming to terms with her sexual orientation a very long and painful process.

For years, Jessi struggled in silence. But then, in her sophomore year, something wonderful happened. One October day she walked to the quad only to find a giant display of rainbow balloons. A girl approached her, handed her a rainbow bracelet, and asked her to help support her university’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Realizing the potential, she began to attend GSA meetings. Even though she didn’t have the courage to speak the entire first year she attended, her stereotypes about gays were shattered as she listened to the stories of everyone around her.

Wanting to be of service, she began to volunteer at the campus GSA. While there, she regularly spoke with a trans-woman who had just begun transitioning. Moved by her story, Jessi began to study more about the psychological needs of the transgendered and what could be done to help.
Now she is continuing that work in her doctorate program in South Florida. She has also since come out to her father, who while initially homophobic, has become an ally to the LGBT community. But, most importantly, she has learned to accept herself for who she is.